The most unusual season in NFL history will end with something (else) that has never happened: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will become the first team to compete for a Super Bowl title in its home stadium. Super Bowl LV will be played on Feb. 7 at the Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium, a date the NFL awarded years before quarterback Tom Brady decided to leave the New England Patriots and make a couple more runs at a championship in Tampa.
After winning the first NFC Championship Game he has ever played in, a 31-26 victory over the Green Bay Packers, Brady will face the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. After a 38-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs are seeking their second title of the Patrick Mahomes era. Let’s take a closer look at this exciting Super Bowl matchup.
Here’s what we have to get you ready: Kevin Seifert looks at each team and how each can win the Super Bowl; Seth Walder crunches the numbers to give you some key stats to know; Matt Bowen dives into the game plan with a key matchup and an X factor; Dan Graziano answers big questions surrounding the final game of the season; and finally, we have early, gut-reaction predictions from our experts. Let’s dive in.
Note: Odds and game lines are via Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. Predictions are from ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI).
Chiefs | Buccaneers
Key stats | X factors
Big questions | Early picks
When: Sunday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Florida
Vegas line: Chiefs -3 (O/U 57)
ESPN’s Football Power Index: Chiefs, 52.1% (by 0.7 points)
The Super Bowl will be preceded by almost none of the usual pregame hype. To ensure compliance with COVID-19 protocols, the NFL is requiring the Chiefs to remain at their home facility until no earlier than two days before the game. (The Buccaneers will already be at home, of course.) That means there will be no media day, no daily swarming of team hotels and no conventional parties.
Regardless, this will be a super-size game featuring the quarterback who has won more Super Bowls than any other player in history (Brady, six) and his possible successor (Mahomes, seeking his second at age 25). — Seifert
Seifert’s first look at the matchup
Regular season: 14-2 | No. 1 seed in AFC
Reason for hope: To put it bluntly, the Chiefs are rolling. They beat the Cleveland Browns in the divisional round, even after Mahomes was put into concussion protocol. And on Sunday, they snapped the Bills’ eight-game winning streak. Watching them go up and down the field on Buffalo’s defense, and then largely stifle an MVP candidate in Bills quarterback Josh Allen, you know they have pulled it together at just the right moment.
Reason for concern: Do you trust the Chiefs’ secondary to stay with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Scotty Miller and perhaps Antonio Brown? Brady will bring that talent, along with an offensive line that kept him mostly clean against the Packers, to Raymond James Stadium. The Chiefs’ only relevant loss during the regular season was by score of 40-32, the highest-scoring game against them this season. (The other was a Week 17 game featuring backups.) The Buccaneers are one team that brings the kind of offense that could outscore them in a shootout.
How the Chiefs win: One of the defining characteristics of the Chiefs under Mahomes is that they have never been out of a game, no matter how poorly they might start. So even if the Buccaneers open an early lead, the Chiefs will be just a few strikes away from getting back in the game. But the key will be whether they can hold off the Buccaneers’ defensive front. If they can give Mahomes enough time, he’ll carve up their secondary and just pour too many points on the fire.
Regular season: 11-5 | No. 5 seed in NFC
Reason for hope: The Buccaneers have scored at least 30 points in each of their past six games, averaging 35.7 over that span. If nothing else, that puts them in position to compete with the Chiefs if the game turns into a shootout. (The Chiefs are averaging about 25 points per game over that span.) It’s reasonable to expect a good plan for the Chiefs’ offense from defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who once worked for Chiefs coach Andy Reid when both were with the Philadelphia Eagles. And while home field was not much of an advantage in 2020, it’s always preferable to avoid travel whenever possible.
Reason for concern: Brady threw three interceptions against the Packers and a total of 12 in the regular season, the most for him in a season since 2011. Obviously, the Buccaneers overcame those mistakes on Sunday, but giving the Chiefs extra possessions doesn’t seem like a good idea. As crazy as it sounds, the Buccaneers will need Brady to tighten it up for the Super Bowl.
How the Bucs win: The Buccaneers have two paths to victory. Along one, they’ll execute a heroic game plan from Bowles and slow down Mahomes in a way almost no other opponent has in the past three seasons. Along the other, they’ll win a shootout of massive proportions. We’re talking about a 45-40 type of game. They can do it, and the Chiefs’ defense is capable of allowing it.
Walder’s big stats to know
Mahomes led the league in QBR against the blitz (96.8). That’s probably part of the reason he was blitzed just 21% of the time in the regular season, the third-lowest rate. The problem for the Bucs? Bringing extra pass rushers is part of their defense’s identity (38% of dropbacks, fifth-most), which means they’ll either have to change what they do best or play into one of Mahomes’ strengths.
Brady ranked 30th in QBR when under pressure this season. That’s in stark contrast to his No. 5 ranking when not under pressure. An obvious reason: He has no scrambling ability. So just get rid of the ball quickly, right? Brady hasn’t fared that well on quick throws, either. Instead, in Bruce Arians’ vertical passing offense, the pressure will be on the Tampa Bay offensive line in the Super Bowl to give Brady the time and space he needs to work. The Bucs lost only one game when their pass-block win rate was above the 57% league average.
Bowen goes inside the matchup
Key matchup: Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu vs. Brady
I want to see the post-snap matchup here with Mathieu and Brady. Look for the Chiefs to use late movement to spin Mathieu to the middle of the field as a robber defender. You need that versus Brady to close the second-level windows on crossers and in-breakers. And when Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo schemes pressure, Brady has to identify Mathieu when he gets loose on edge blitz schemes.
X factor: Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul
I look at Pierre-Paul here because of his ability to win one-on-one pass-rush matchups versus the Chiefs’ offensive tackles, who could be down starter Eric Fisher on the left side. You’ll see speed to power, counters and juice off the ball. If Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can get pressure from Pierre-Paul and fellow edge rusher Shaquil Barrett — as we saw in the NFC Championship Game win over the Packers — then the Bucs can play more coverage in the Super Bowl. That means Quarters and 2-man (two-deep, man-under), with the edge rushers squeezing the pocket to limit Mahomes’ ability to throw verticals down the field.
Graziano answers big questions
Does Spagnuolo have another championship game plan in him?
The Chiefs are not known for their defense. This is partly because of how exceedingly well known they are for their offense, but it’s also because their defense isn’t always very special. Kansas City’s D ranked 20th in the NFL this year in defensive efficiency. It was 13th last year, and it’s 21st over the past three years (since Mahomes became the starter). But Spagnuolo, the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator, has shown an ability to get his side of the ball tuned up for the biggest of games. They stymied Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in last year’s AFC Championship Game, pitched a fourth-quarter shutout against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, held the run-happy Browns to 112 rushing yards in this year’s divisional round and confused Allen and the Bills on Sunday to advance to their second straight Super Bowl.
It has been 13 years since Spagnuolo’s New York Giants defense beat Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. This will be brought up, surely, over the next couple of weeks, but the truth is that experience isn’t going to be a factor this much later. What will matter is whether the Chiefs’ defense can find a way to get pressure on Brady, whose offensive line has been one of the big stories of this postseason, and whether they can get all of his great receivers covered.
The Chiefs will score. This we know. The Bucs’ defense is plenty respectable, but no one really slows down Mahomes and the Kansas City offense for long. Just ask the 49ers, or any other team they’ve played in the playoffs in the past three years. The question is whether the Chiefs can do enough to keep Brady and the Bucs from scoring — to keep the game in reach long enough for Mahomes to still win it if they start slow, or to head off any legendary comeback attempts Tampa Bay’s legendary QB might have in mind. The Super Bowl will be thrilling to watch when the ball is in Kansas City’s hands. But what happens when it’s in Tampa Bay’s hands will decide who wins it.
Can the Bucs’ defense keep forcing turnovers at this rate?
Tampa Bay actually lost the turnover battle on Sunday in Green Bay 3-2. But the Buccaneers’ offense scored touchdowns off both of the Packers’ turnovers, after scoring touchdowns off three of the Saints’ four turnovers in the divisional round the week before, as well as a touchdown off Washington’s lone turnover in the wild-card round the week before that. Tampa Bay’s 41 points off turnovers are tied for the third-most by a team in a single postseason in the past 20 years, and it has a game left to catch the 2010 Packers, who had 48.
Now, that means 45% of the Buccaneers’ points this postseason have come off turnovers, and they’ve won their games by an average of 7.8 points. So if you think they have to get turnovers in order to win, this postseason backs up that conclusion.
This isn’t new for Tampa Bay, though. Its 101 points off turnovers in the regular season were the third-most in the league, behind only Baltimore (106) and Pittsburgh (105). But that’s still only 21% of the total points the Bucs scored this year. So 45% is a monster number. If it keeps up, you have to like their chances. If it doesn’t, they’ll have to stop the Chiefs with a defense that ranked a solid-but-unspectacular ninth in defensive efficiency in the regular season.
Kansas City’s 16 regular-season turnovers were tied for the fourth-fewest in the league, and so far this postseason, it has turned the ball over once in two games. Whether the Bucs can take the ball away from Kansas City in the Super Bowl could determine which team wins it.
Our experts lean with the Chiefs in early picks 10-2.
Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Chiefs. Their explosive play ability on offense will create matchup issues for the Tampa Bay defense.
Mike Clay, fantasy writer: Buccaneers. It feels gross picking against Mahomes, but the Buccaneers have been red-hot over the past two months and — records aside — arguably have the overall better body of work this season.
Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Chiefs. They have an answer for everything you do on defense — blitz, try to stop the run, switch up coverages — and they are wide awake after appearing bored for much of the regular season.
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Chiefs. Reid is money with two weeks to plan, and the Bucs’ defense has been living off turnovers all month.
Jenna Laine, Buccaneers reporter: Buccaneers. They’ve won seven in a row to get here, and, assuming they’ll have both starting safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead back, they’ll be at full strength defensively.
Jason Reid, The Undefeated writer: Chiefs. Reason: Mahomes. Any questions?
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Chiefs. It’s time for Mahomes to take the championship torch from Brady.
Mike Tannenbaum, NFL analyst: Chiefs. They are 44-11 over the past three years, best in the league. There’s too much talent on K.C.’s side.
Adam Teicher, Chiefs reporter: Chiefs. If they play as well as they did against the Bills, it’s going to be nearly impossible for the Bucs to beat them.
Seth Walder, analytics writer: Chiefs. While the Bucs scuffle around with 3-yard Leonard Fournette runs on first down, Mahomes and the Chiefs will pass their way to an early lead they won’t surrender.
Seth Wickersham, senior writer: Chiefs. I hate to underestimate Brady again, but the Chiefs are just too good.
Field Yates, NFL analyst: Chiefs. The explosive offensive attack simply cannot be stopped.